A snow storm strands three travellers at a seedy motel.
Adam worries how his shy wife, Mercy, will cope with having to share the only room left.
Bored at having to ride out the storm with only two channels on TV, Nelson suggests an innocent game of truth or dare.
As Mercy sheds her usual bashful demeanor, the situation turns explosive.
How low will Adam let his wife descend?
“There’s got to be something. You’ve got to have something else.”
The pot-bellied woman behind the counter adjusted her red horn-rimmed glasses, sighed, licked her finger, then swiped at the pages of the guest register. Staring straight at me the whole time. Didn’t even bother to pretend to look at it. “Sorry, hon. Nothing.”
I clenched the fist I’d stuffed into my pants pocket. A tightness gripped my chest. Turning to my right, I glanced at Mercy.
She was fidgeting with her fingers in front of her waist.
Behind her, Nelson was staring at the old bat with one eye raised. He shot me an annoyed look, lifting his palms slightly, as if to say “what are you going to do?”
What in the heck were we going to do indeed.
If it had been just me and Nelson there, no problem. Me and Mercy? Not a worry. But the three of us? Riding out a blizzard in a room with two beds, no cable TV, the nearest grocery store an hour’s walk away?
I glanced at Mercy again. She was looking decidedly uncomfortable. Fidgeting was always the first sign that she felt ill at ease. Then her eyes would start darting side to side, not knowing where to look. A tiny bead of sweat would break out on her top lip and she’d start licking it with her sweet little pink tongue.
After a while the skin there would get red, raw from being rubbed.
“Sweetheart, you gonna’ take the room or what? In case you hadn’t noticed I got a line of people behind you. Now make up your mind or step aside. This is all there is. Take it or leave it.” She rolled her eyes and sighed as she said it.
Nelson cleared his throat. He gently touched Mercy on the arm until she stepped to one side, flashing him a weak smile.
She’d always been shy. Even when there was no reason. We’d known Nelson for years. He came over for barbecues in the summer, Christmas parties in December. It’s not like he was a stranger.
But Mercy was an intensely private person. Even with me. I could probably count how many times I’d seen her naked in broad daylight on one hand, despite the fact we’d been married for six years. She liked to keep to herself. Hold her cards close to her chest, so to speak.
A lot of it had to do with her religious upbringing. Her dad was a minister in a very conservative church. The first date we went on was to one of his sermons.
Our second date was to a theatre I’d never heard of where we watched the Ten Commandments. That one from the fifties with Charlton Heston. She’d closed her eyes and covered her ears at the golden calf scene.
I don’t even know if I could imagine what was running through her mind right then. Sharing a room with another man, even though he was a friend? And nothing else to wear but the clothes we had on.
Why the hell had I invited Nelson to come with us? I’d be lucky if it only took her a few months to get over this.
Nelson stepped past Mercy and leaned over to whisper to me. He was about six inches taller than me, which made him about a foot taller than Mercy. Handsome guy, too. “Come on, Adam,” he said, the rumble of his low baritone carrying even through the whisper. “I don’t think we have much choice here.”
I let out a breath. I knew he was right. It was either this or one of us spending the night in the car. Hell, if I’d known it was going to be just one night I might have chosen that instead. “I know, I know,” I said, sounding deflated. I looked at Mercy again.
She was stealing glances at the increasingly irritated line up of people behind us. The telltale strip of red was already forming above her lip.
I knew I didn’t have a choice. Turning to the owner of the motel, I pulled out my wallet. “Okay. We’ll take it,” I said, pushing a credit card across the counter.
A collective groan rose behind us.
I turned around, looking sheepishly at the line up of people who’d started picking up suitcases to begin trudging back to their cars. I wanted to say something, apologize, though I really didn’t need to. We’d been there first, after all.
But the weather outside was wicked Snow whipping sideways, the wind howling and no end in sight to the blizzard.
I decided to keep my mouth shut.
“Hey!” the lady barked behind me. “Hey, I’ve probably got room for about a dozen of you’s in the hallway if you want to camp out. Special price, half-off.”
I spun back around and shot her a dirty look.
She arched her brow, as if she had no idea what it was about. “What?” she squawked. “I gotta’ pay the bills somehow.”
I was just about to start arguing with her, explaining how unethical she was being, when Nelson touched my arm. I turned to look at him.
“Come on man,” he said quietly. “It’s not our fight. Maybe we can…help out later. Share the bathroom or something, you know? Let’s just get the room for now.”
He was right. I knew he was. Still, it riled me what a jerk the old broad was being.
“We okay here?” she asked, waving my credit card at me.
“We’re fine,” I muttered. “Just…swipe the card and give us the keys.”
Still staring straight at me, she reached beneath the counter and hauled out one of those old flatbed imprinters. Slamming it on the counter, she mashed my card into it. She licked her finger again, pulled out a three-ply sales slip over it and jammed the handle from left to right.
The card snapped.
This drew her attention to the machine. “Oh. Shit,” she grunted.
“Oh, shit, are you kidding me?” I said, grabbing the two pieces of plastic of my card.
“Adam,” Mercy said, her voice tight and strained at my profanity.
“Sorry, sweetie,” I muttered.
She didn’t like it when I swore.
That was pretty much all I wanted to do right then. Stomp around swearing and waving my arms. Seemed like it would make me feel better anyways. Resisting the urge, I pulled out another card from my wallet and handed it to the woman. “Can you be more careful please?”
Same deal. Mash, cover, ker-clunk as she swiped the handle across it. Eyeing me the whole time.
What the hell was her problem anyway? Maybe the place wouldn’t have been such a dump if she treated her customers better.
At least this time the card didn’t break.
After peeling off the sales slip, she pried the card out of the machine with her stubby fingers and handed it back to me.
I stuffed it into my wallet, trying my hardest not to grumble at our luck.
After taking her sweet time filing away the receipt, fat-fingers waddled to the back wall, grabbed the last key hanging on a hook and walked back. She dropped it on the counter with a clatter, then looked back up at me with one eye raised. “No smoking, no drinking, no loud noises, no pets, don’t clog the toilet, if you do there’s a plunger in the back you’re on your own. I don’t deal with other people’s shit.” She flashed me the most sarcastic smile I’d ever seen. “Have a nice stay.”
I felt like pulling my hand out of my pocket and punching her right in the face. What an outrageous bitch!
Nelson must have sensed I was on edge. He touched my arm again, putting his fingers on the inside of my elbow and began to lead me away. “Thank-you, ma’am,” he said, giving her a friendly smile.
To my surprise, her smile warmed at this. “That’s better,” she said, her jowls flapping as she nodded. “You should take some lessons from your friend.”
Nelson leaned over me again. “Just let it go, brother. Let it go. Come on Mercy,” he said, turning to smile at her. “Let’s see what the presidential suite is like.”
I was knocked off balance a bit to hear Mercy giggling. Turning to look at her, I saw her covering her mouth with a hand, her blonde curls bouncing along her shoulders as she laughed.
When she saw me watching her, she turned her eyes down toward the floor again. “Sorry,” she muttered.
I shook my head. It wasn’t like her. Mercy got seriously stressed out by situations like these. She liked her routine. She liked order. Discipline. She didn’t like being out of her comfort zone, didn’t like things that were out of the ordinary. It was strange to see her being so light-hearted about it.
It didn’t help my mood, either.
Nelson had started walking toward the hall that led to the rooms.
I was about to reach out and take Mercy’s hand when she spun around and jogged a few steps to catch up to him.
That was when my first…inkling, I guess, of something dark, something I thought then was deeply depraved reared it’s head.
Well, not the first time, really. Just the first time it had crawled out in broad daylight. My insides twisted a bit, a knot forming in my stomach. My heart felt heavy. My vision narrowed, focusing on Mercy and Nelson walking in front of me.
He was bantering about the ugly carpet and paint flaking off the walls.
And Mercy was…laughing at it. Every few steps she’d turn and look at him, her little button nose all scrunched up, shrugging her shoulders and giggling like she was having the best time.
It chewed at me. Stoked a strange fire in my gut that wouldn’t be quashed no matter how hard I tried to douse it.
Because here’s the thing. This wasn’t new to me. I’d had these thoughts before. Terrible thoughts. Shameful thoughts, and I’m not the kind of guy that gets ashamed easily. But this…this salacious desire that gripped me every so often was so taboo, so wicked and wrong that I felt like I had to beat it back every time it surfaced.
“Looks like this is it!” Nelson’s cheerful tone yanked me from my thoughts and put me back into the hall with the two of them.
It was a welcome reprieve from the shadows I’d descended into.
Pushing the rusty key into the lock, he gave it a twist. The bolt clicked. The door swung open. The smell of stale cigarettes came wafting out of the room.
Mercy pressed a finger to her nose and squinted. “Ew, gross!” she tittered.
Nelson shook his head. Half-smiling, he drew in a long breath through his nose, then exhaled. “Ah!” he announced. “Smells just like the Hilton in New York!”
Mercy burst out laughing at the joke, the sound tearing my heart to shreds.
As Nelson looked back at me I forced a smile and shook my head. The gesture was just a distraction. A distraction so neither of them would notice how I turned slightly to one side, how my hand fell to cover my crotch, to hide the embarrassing lump that had formed there at seeing them being so friendly.
What was wrong with me?
Nelson swept a hand through the door and bowed slightly in Mercy’s direction. “After you madame,” he said.
Even though the chivalry was a joke, I saw a blush rise to Mercy’s cheeks.
The way her skin flushed only drove me deeper into the grip of my dark fantasy. As Nelson followed her into the room, I took a moment for a few deep breaths. The ache between my legs eased. But the overpowering lust that was coursing through me did not ebb.
It suddenly became very clear that it wasn’t Mercy who I should be worrying about, how she would get through this, how she would live down rooming with another man. A black man, at that. It wasn’t her who would have the biggest problem with it.
It was me.